Thursday, November 30, 2023
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HomeBeef‘Women vets are the backbone of our profession at the moment’
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘Women vets are the backbone of our profession at the moment’

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Aoife Ferris (27), in this week’s veterinary series.

“I am from a small village called Ballysteen in west Limerick. More recently, I have been living and working in Co. Fermanagh for over five years for Lakeland Veterinary Services in Belleek and have no plans to leave the county.

I come from a farming background on both sides of my family and grew up on a suckler farm and spent summers with my childminders on their sheep and suckler farm.

My dad also kept horses and hunting dogs, as well as goats, hens, ducks, geese etc. So, I have always been surrounded by animals and by the love of animals; animals were always an escape for me.

To be honest, I was unsure what I wanted to do after school. I knew what I did not want to do.

Having seen practice with my local vets, Raymond Fitzell and Derek Long, I was set on veterinary medicine at UCD School of Veterinary Medicine, Dublin, thereafter.

I graduated with an M.V.B degree in veterinary medicine in 2017, having enrolled in the course in 2012.

There is only one university that offers a degree in veterinary medicine on the island of Ireland, so it was the only option for me applying through the CAO.

I was very young, starting college – I completed my Leaving Certificate at 16 and turned 17 that summer. I was 17 when I moved to Dublin and started studying at UCD to become a vet.

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Life after graduation

I have worked in Lakeland Veterinary Services since I qualified. We are a truly mixed practice. For the first three years, I mainly did large animal work with routine small animal work also.

However, changes within the practice led me to take on a further role within our small animal branch. I briefly locumed before working with Lakeland Vets, which provided me with a steep learning curve, to say the least.

I was extremely lucky to receive guidance from the other vets in the practice.

I was very lucky that I was the only new graduate there, and all our other veterinary surgeons at the time were experienced within their fields.

Moreover, I received backup on our out-of-hours rota for three months until I was comfortable with large animal emergencies and became familiar with the area.

6-vet practice

We are a 6-vet practice and are extremely lucky to have a full complement of vets. We cover a very large radius, north and south of the border, a 40-mile radius in each direction, which can be challenging during busy spring periods.

We cover Fermanagh, Leitrim, Sligo, Cavan and Donegal. We have a 1/6 OOH rota, with a 1/3 weekend rota during spring.

I am passionate about solving difficult cases and reaching a diagnosis. It is like solving a puzzle, asking the right questions to get the right answers.

The most important tools we have as veterinary surgeons is the ability to attain a good thorough clinical history and perform a thorough clinical examination. A lot of your answers will be lying hidden within clues from this!

New grad vets

When applying for your first job, the most important thing is ensuring you have adequate support and feel comfortable asking your colleagues for help.

I think working in mixed practice broadens your skill set and ability to deal with difficult situations, cases and sometimes challenging clients.

A boss who has your back is also essential. You will make mistakes, but learning from them is an important part of being a new graduate.

I feel in the last number of years, there has been a drive to improve resources, and the level of support new graduates are receiving.

The R.C.V.S has implemented a mentorship programme called VetGDP, where experienced veterinary surgeons within the practice mentor new graduates, assisting them in meeting certain goals within their first 12 months of practice. This structure is great, as it provides goals for the new graduate to meet.

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My number one piece of advice is to see practice with your local practice before applying to veterinary medicine.

This will give you a true insight into what the life of a veterinary surgeon is like. The more practice you see, the more you will see the reality of veterinary medicine and whether or not you will may like it long-term.

Being a vet is a challenging yet rewarding profession. What surprised me the most was how unprepared I was as a new graduate to deal with people.

Dealing with people is a major part of my day-to-day life, from communicating what is wrong with their animal, how we can move forward, and communicating the diagnosis, prognosis and cost.

Dealing with difficult cases is also challenging but becomes easier with experience.

I love the thrill of solving a difficult case or an outbreak situation.

It is rewarding and brings you job satisfaction. Seeing the look on a client’s face when you deliver good news to them on how a surgery went or giving their pet the all-clear is invaluable.


The hours can be challenging during spring; given we are in a mainly suckler-based part of the country, we perform a lot of calvings, caesareans, calf beds out and general large animal emergencies.

Given there are more and more part-time farmers who work during the day, the evenings can be busier than day time.

The night calls and driving can also be challenging, given our large practice radius. I find driving the hardest part!

Being on the end of the phone 24/7 in spring can also be mentally challenging. Over time, I have learnt to carry on with my normal day-to-day life; if a call comes in, so be it!

A capable vet should be empathetic, responsible, caring, compassionate and kind, yet have a good sense of humour and plenty of patience.

Women in veterinary

If it weren’t for women in veterinary, there would be an even greater shortage of vets. Overall, I have not experienced direct issues with being a female vet.

Once a farmer can see you can do a good calving and C-section or even get the vein first go, they are happy to have you back.

Being from a farming background made it easier to develop a relationship with our farmers.

Women vets are the backbone of our profession at the moment. We are a 5:1 female: male veterinary practice, and I do not feel this impacts our clients or day-to-day running.


I have completed two post-graduate certs to date; a Certificate in Dairy Herd Health with UCD and a Certificate in Small Animal Ultrasonography with the University of Melbourne.

These were both thoroughly enjoyable but challenging with a full-time job and rota. I have a desire to travel at some point, but not just yet.

Ultimately, I would like to become a partner or own my own practice.

If I could turn back the clock, I would not have changed a thing. I had a brilliant five years at UCD and made lifelong friends.

My life as a vet is so rewarding. Being a vet is not 9-5; it is a vocation and way of life. Every day is a school day, and every day has plenty of variety in mixed practice.

I am worried about the future of veterinary medicine, particularly in border regions, given the uncertain nature surrounding the supply of veterinary medicines post-Brexit.

I am also concerned about the retention of vets in clinical practice. We, as a profession, need to look at how we can keep young vets in practice long-term and provide adequate support and a positive working environment.”
See more veterinary profiles.

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